Features: Re-Examining Zelda: Twilight Princess

Playing it safe, or changing the game?

You can tell a lot about a game from its opening scene. In the first few minutes of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time we're shown a sweeping, first-person view of the Kokiri Forest, as Navi flies frantically to awake a hero-to-be. In Zelda: The Wind Waker we're shown, in a beautifully minimalist art style, an ancient legend of grandiose proportions. And, of course, in A Link to the Past the player is immediately thrown into a dark, stormy Hyrule on a search to find his wayward uncle.

All of these intros, though different in their own right, all point to one word: epic. True, they don't start out with explosions, mysterious murders or gunshots, but they don't need to. Every one of these opening scenes is able to immediately relate to the player the immense scope and gravity of the situation at hand. The huge, sprawling world of Hyrule; a princess in danger. The fate of the world hanging in balance.

Twilight Princess is different. It doesn't start with sweeping views of the world around you, there are no ancient prophecies about fallen heroes; there are no pirates invading your island, and no sense of urgency of any kind, really.

Despite what many critics have said about it, Twilight Princess is not an overly traditional Zelda game.

Twilight Princess starts with two friends sitting by a river, talking about the sunset.

Do you ever feel a strange sadness as dusk falls? They say it's the only time when our world intersects with theirs... ...The only time we can feel the lingering regrets of spirits who have left our world. That is why loneliness always pervades the hour of twilight...

-- Rusl, Twilight Princess

It sounds like an epic prophecy out of context like this, but when you actually watch this scene in the game it comes across as nothing more than a conversation starter; in fact in the very next sentence, Rusl brushes this comment aside, realizing that the tone is getting a bit melancholy, and changes the subject entirely.

Nintendo underplays this scene, and by the time you've started chasing cats and herding goats, you wouldn't be blamed for completely forgetting that that introductory conversation even took place. But like all Zelda intros, this opening scene is critical in establishing what lies ahead, and, possibly, what exactly the entire game is really about.

Let's be clear, now: Twilight Princess is an epic game. Incredible cinematics, a massive overworld, brain-bending dungeons and the biggest bosses the series has seen thus far. Contrary to the series' other entries, though, we get absolutely no sense of that epic scope from the opening scene. In fact, for the first couple hours of the game, we barely get the sense that anything is going to happen with these characters. Instead, we're pre-occupied with chasing cats, heading goats, following monkeys and catching fish; by Zelda standards, this is pedestrian.

But one thing it is, indisputably, is different. Despite what many critics have said about it, Twilight Princess is not an overly traditional Zelda game, and with the next series entry Skyward Sword fast approaching, we'd like to take just a minute to look back at the previous console instalment and examine this notion a little further.

The opening dialogue mentioned above sets a sort of theme or pattern for the rest of the 30+ hour experience. It lets us know right off the bat that this is not a game about saving the world, it's not a game about Zelda and it's arguably not even a game about Link.

This is a game about Midna.

Now, if you haven't played the game, and you have any intention of playing it, stop reading now. We're going to start delving into some extreme spoiler areas.

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